A DREAM COME TRUE
Growing up, Mmoloki Morapedi wanted to be a pilot but unfortunately could not make it to the aviation school as he didn’t score enough points.
He then registered for a Bachelor of Science Degree at the University of Botswana specializing in Computer Science, and as fate would have it, he met and struck a chord with one Thero Matenge who was doing Aircraft Engineering.
The pair then started manufacturing a drone aircraft, the first of its kind in Botswana, thus fulfilling Morapedi’s dream of taking to the skies.
Recently the 26-year-old Rasesa-born graduate was awarded Best Manufacturer Award at the Youth Business Expo which was held in Gaborone.
Our reporter Portia Ngwako had a chat with this creative young man who shared his challenges and experiences in what started as an idea.
Q. How did you start this project?
I wanted to do something different and have always had a passion for flying.
I started manufacturing the aircraft as a hobby and later realized it can be something beyond a toy and be commercialized.
Q. How does it work and does it also use jet fuel?
It is an electric aircraft which uses battery.
It is operated with a remote and uses radio frequency.
Q. What is the purpose of this plane?
It can be used mostly for agricultural purposes and to control quail birds.
We demonstrated how it can work at Phitshane Molopo farms last week and the people were quite impressed.
It can also be used to spray crops in big farms.
Farmers usually hire big air crafts which costs about P700 000 but with my drones that cost can be significantly reduced.
This aircraft can also be used for security purposes along borders to reduce cases of illegal migration and crime.
Q. What are the regulations for flying your plane?
We can only fly for 500 metres at an altitude of 150 metres but we are in the process of acquiring a licence from Civil Aviation Authority Botswana so we can fly high and wide.
Once we get the certificate we will start commercial operations.
Q. How long did it take to finish this project?
It took me and my partner five years to do the research and a year of flight testing.
Thero Matenge is the pillar of this project because he helped in plane wings design and flying. He is very talented!
Q. How did you manage to strike a balance between your studies and the project?
The project affected my studies a lot because I started it while doing my first year at university.
I spent a lot of time doing research and testing and there was a time when I failed and had to re-sit for a module.
It was very challenging because I discovered this passion the same time I started my programme.
There was conflict of interest but I had to soldier on.
Q. What are the challenges you went through and how did you overcome them?
My parents were not supportive when I started because they saw it as a distraction which would seriously compromise my studies.
Some parts of the aircraft are expensive and not available locally so we had to import from China.
The power sources are also expensive so we had to use our allowances and did part time jobs during school vacation to fund the project, which in the end gobbled around P20 000.
Q. What does the award you received from Youth Business Expo mean to you?
It was our first time to participate at the youth expo and getting an award was a great honour.
It shows that we are doing something right and our ideas can bring change.
It was a powerful event and we got a lot of ideas from other youth.
It was a source of motivation for us and the P40 000 we won will be invested in our business to grow and also to come up with something advanced.
We will use the money to buy quality material and specialized equipment and our planes will become more efficient.
We need at least half a million to do the agriculture project so that farmers can produce a lot of sorghum and the country become self-sufficient.
Q. What advice can you give to young people who want go into the aviation industry?
In life you should never give up. Work hard to achieve your dreams and believe in yourself.
If they want to do aviation, they need to pass Mathematics and Science.
Graduates should come up with creative and innovative ideas, especially those related to new technology because Botswana is now part of the global village.
Q. Where do you see yourself in the coming years?
We want our flights to cover long distances and perform better in terms of speed and altitude.
We are also researching on solar energy so that the wings of our plane can be powered by solar.
This industry of drones is still very new and we want to start an aviation school.
We also want to do air shows for small planes next year.
Q. Finally, thank God it’s Friday – what are your plans for the weekend?
Unfortunately my grandmother has passed on and we are laying her to rest in Rasesa this Saturday.
May her soul rest in peace.
She is one of the people who believed in me and I will continue to take heed of all the advice she gave me.